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Corona discharge
In electricity, a corona discharge is an electrical discharge brought on by the
ionization of a fluid conductor, which occurs when the potential gradient (the
strength of the electric field exceeds a certain value, but conditions are insufficient
to cause complete electrical breakdown or arcing.
A corona is a process by which a current, perhaps sustained, develops from an
electrode with a high potential in a neutral fluid, usually air, by ionizingthat fluid
so as to create a plasma around the electrode. The ions generated eventually
pass charge to nearby areas of lower potential, or recombine to form neutral gas
When the potential gradient is large enough at a point in the fluid, the fluid at that
point ionizes and it becomes conductive. If a charged object has a sharp point,
the air around that point will be at a much higher gradient than elsewhere. Air
near the electrode can become ionized (partially conductive), while regions more
distant do not. When the air near the point becomes conductive, it has the effect
of increasing the apparent size of the conductor. Since the new conductive region
is less sharp, the ionization may not extend past this local region. Outside of this
region of ionization and conductivity, the charged particles slowly find their way
to an oppositely charged object and are neutralized.
If the geometry and gradient are such that the ionized region continues to grow
instead of stopping at a certain radius, a completely conductive path may be
formed, resulting in a momentary spark, or a continuous arc.
Corona discharge usually involves two asymmetric electrodes; one highly curved
(such as the tip of a needle, or a small diameter wire) and one of low curvature
(such as a plate, or the ground). The high curvature ensures a high potential
gradient around one electrode, for the generation of a plasma.
Coronas may be positive or negative. This is determined by the polarity of the
voltage on the highly-curved electrode. If the curved electrode is positive with
respect to the flat electrode we say we have a positive corona if negative we say
we have a negative corona. (See below for more details.) The physics of positive
and negative coronas are strikingly different. This asymmetry is a result of the
great difference in mass between electrons and positively charged ions, with only
the electron having the ability to undergo a significant degree of ionising inelastic
collision common temperatures and pressures.
An important reason for considering coronas is the production of ozone around
conductors undergoing corona processes. A negative corona generates much
more ozone than the corresponding positive corona.
Problems caused by corona discharges

Coronas can generate audible and radio-frequency noise, particularly near

electric power transmission lines. They also represent a power loss, and their
action on atmospheric particulates, along with associated ozone and
NOx production, can also be disadvantageous to human health where power
lines run through built-up areas. Therefore, power transmission equipment is
designed to minimise the formation of corona discharge. Corona discharge is
generally undesirable in:E

Electric power transmission where it causes:

o Power loss
o Audible noise
o Electromagnetic interference
o Purple glow
o Ozone production
o Insulation damage
Inside electrical components such as transformers, capacitors, electric
motors and generators. Corona progressively damages the insulation
inside these devices, leading to premature equipment failure. One form of
attack is ozone cracking of elastomer items like O-rings
Situations where high voltages are in use, but ozone production is to be
Static electricity discharge

Mechanism of corona discharge

Corona discharge of both the positive and negative variety have certain
mechanisms in common.
1. A neutral atom or molecule of the medium, in a region of strong electric
field (such as the high potential grdient near the curved electrode) is
ionized by an exogenous environmental event (for example, as the result
of a photoninteraction), to create a positive ion and a freeelectron.

2. The electric field then operates on these charged particles, separating

them, and preventing their recombination, and also accelerating them,
imparting each of them with kinetic energy.
3. As a result of the energisation of the electrons (which have a much higher
charge/mass ratio and so are accelerated to a higher velocity), further
electron/positive-ion pairs may be created by collision with neutral atoms.
These then undergo the same separating process creating an electron
avalanche. Both positive and negative coronas rely on electron

4. In processes which differ between positive and negative coronas, the

energy of these plasma processes is converted into further initial electron
dissociations to seed further avalanches.
5. An ion species created in this series of avalanches (which differs between
positive and negative coronas) is attracted to the uncurved electrode,
completing the circuit, and sustaining the current flow.

Electrical properties
The current carried by the corona is determined by integrating the current
density over the surface of the conductor. The power loss is determined by
multiplying the current squared and the voltage. (I2R Losses).
Positive coronas
A positive corona is manifested as a uniform plasma across the length of a
conductor. It can often be seen glowing blue/white, though much of the emissions
are in the ultraviolet. The uniformity of the plasma owes itself to the homogeneous
source of secondary avalanche electrons described in the mechanism section,
below. With the same geometry and voltages, it appears a little smaller than the
corresponding negative corona, owing to the lack of a non-ionising plasma region
between the inner and outer regions. There are many fewer free electrons in a
positive corona, when compared to a negative corona, except very close to the
curved electrode: perhaps a thousandth of the electron density, and a hundredth
of the total number of electrons.

However, the electrons in a positive corona are concentrated close to the surface
of the curved conductor, in a region of high-potential gradient (and therefore the
electrons have a high energy), whereas in a negative corona many of the
electrons are in the outer, lower-field areas. Therefore, if electrons are to be used
in an application which requires a high activation energy, positive coronas may
support a greater reaction constants than corresponding negative coronas;
though the total number of electrons may be lower, the number of a very high
energy electrons may be higher.
Coronas are efficient producers of ozone in air. A positive corona generates much
less ozone than the corresponding negative corona, as the reactions which
produce ozone are relatively low-energy. Therefore, the greater number of
electrons of a negative corona leads to an increased production.
Beyond the plasma, in the unipolar region, the flow is of low-energy positive ions
toward the flat electrode.
As with a negative corona, a positive corona is initiated by an exogenous
ionisation event in a region of high potential gradient. The electrons resulting from
the ionisation are attracted towardthe curved electrode, and the positive ions
repelled from it. By undergoing inelastic collisions closer and closer to the curved
electrode, further molecules are ionized in an electron avalanche.
In a positive corona, secondary electrons, for further avalanches, are generated
predominantly in the fluid itself, in the region outside the plasma or avalanche
region. They are created by ionization caused by the photons emitted from that
plasma in the various de-excitation processes occurring within the plasma after
electron collisions, the thermal energy liberated in those collisions creating
photons which are radiated into the gas. The electrons resulting from the
ionisation of a neutral gas molecule are then electrically attracted back toward
the curved electrode, attracted into the plasma, and so begins the process of
creating further avalanches inside the plasma.
As can be seen, the positive corona is divided into two regions, concentric around
the sharp electrode. The inner region contains ionising electrons, and positive
ions, acting as a plasma, the electrons avalanche in this region, creating many
further ion/electron pairs. The outer region consists almost entirely of the slowly
migrating massive positive ions, moving toward the uncurved electrode along
with, close to the interface of this region, secondary electrons, liberated by
photons leaving the plasma, being re-accelerated into the plasma. The inner
region is known as the plasmaunipolar region.region, the outer as the
Negative coronas
A negative corona is manifested in a non-uniform corona, varying according to
the surface features and irregularities of the curved conductor. It often appears

as tufts of corona at sharp edges, the number of tufts altering with the strength of
the field. The form of negative coronas is a result of its source of secondary
avalanche electrons (see below). It appears a little larger than the corresponding
positive corona, as electrons are allowed to drift out of the ionising region, and so
the plasma continues some distance beyond it. The total number of electrons,
and electron density is much greater than in the corresponding positive corona.
However, they are of a predominantly lower energy, owing to being in a region of
lower potential-gradient. Therefore, whilst for many reactions the increased
electron density will increase the reaction rate, the lower energy of the electrons
will mean that reactions which require a higher electron energy may take place
at a lower rate.
Negative coronas are more complex than positive coronas in construction. As
with positive coronas, the establishing of a corona begins with an exogenous
ionisation event generating a primary electron, followed by an electron
Electrons ionised from the neutral gas are not useful in sustaining the negative
corona process by generating secondary electrons for further avalanches, as the
general movement of electrons in a negative corona is outward from the curved
electrode. For negative corona, instead, the dominant process generating
secondary electrons is the photoelectric effect, from the surface of the electrode
itself. The work-function of the electrons (the energy required to liberate the
electrons from the surface) is considerably lower than the ionisation energy of air
at standard temperatures and pressures, making it a more liberal source of
secondary electrons under these conditions. Again, the source of energy for the
electron-liberation is a high-energy photon from an atom within the plasma body
relaxing after excitation from an earlier collision. The use of ionised neutral gas
as a source of ionisation is further diminished in a negative corona by the highconcentration of positive ions clustering around the curved electrode.
Under other conditions, the collision of the positive species with the curved
electrode can also cause electron liberation.
The difference, then, between positive and negative coronas, in the matter of the
generation of secondary electron avalanches, is that in a positive corona they are
generated by the gas surrounding the plasma region, the new secondary
electrons travelling inward, whereas in a negative corona they are generated by
the curved electrode itself, the new secondary electrons travelling outward.
A further feature of the structure of negative coronas is that as the electrons drift
outwards, they encounter neutral molecules and, with electronegative molecules
(such as oxygen and water vapor), combine to produce negative ions. These
negative ions are then attracted to the positive uncurved electrode, completing
the 'circuit'.
A negative corona can be divided into three radial areas, around the sharp
electrode. In the inner area, high-energy electrons inelastically collide with neutral
atoms and cause avalanches, whilst outer electrons (usually of a lower energy)

combine with neutral atoms to produce negative ions. In the intermediate region,
electrons combine to form negative ions, but typically have insufficient energy to
cause avalanche ionisation, but remain part of a plasma owing to the different
polarities of the species present, and the ability to partake in characteristic plasma
reactions. In the outer region, only a flow of negative ions and, to a lesser and
radially-decreasing extent, free electrons toward the positive electrode takes
place. The inner two regions are known as the corona plasma. The inner region
is an ionising plasma, the middle a non-ionising plasma. The outer region is
known as the unipolar region.